January 18, 2008

In Flew Enza

"... And you thought 'Step Sing Face' was the annual musical spectacle's greatest threat to student health..."

In Flew InzaFebruary is one of the busiest months in most medical practices, including Samford's Student Health Services, according to Shauna Yelton, Director of Student Health. "Most of the illness we see in February tends to be viral in nature and frequently exacerbated by stress and sleep deprivation," Yelton said. In short, Samford students are partaking of a viral potluck at the same time they're packing together in dorms and exhausting themselves in Step Sing rehearsals. And you thought "Step Sing Face" was the annual musical spectacle's greatest threat to student health.

The annual community bug is mostly just an annoyance, but how would this or any other university cope with a more serious disease? Samford did it once, but it required significant changes in campus life for the duration of the lethal outbreak.

The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 was aggravated by war and spread by peace, thriving among stressed, exhausted soldiers returning from WWI. The disease was unusual in its devastation of young and otherwise healthy people, eventually claiming between 50 and 100 million lives worldwide.

Spanish flu arrived at Howard College in the fall of 1918, forcing the college to suspend classes for several weeks and establish quarantine conditions. The Howard College Canteen was closed for the duration of the outbreak but entrepreneurial students provided the goods and services ordinarily available on the first floor of Renfroe Hall. Students bought "Tootsies" from the student dubbed "The Walking Canteen". "The Traveling Shoe Stand" offered shoe shines—an essential service for cadets of Howard's Student Army Training Corps hoping to avoid the dreaded "kitchen patrol".

The Crimson's cheerful mid-November account of the disease's toll on campus--70 students infected, three advancing to pneumonia--indicates their awareness of how much greater the college might have suffered. "The excitement abated rather early," read a notice at the bottom of the Nov. 11 issue. The note's declaration that "all recovered and are in excellent health" was premature, however. The disease killed one student a few weeks later, but the actions of Howard's administrators and student health staff restricted the disease to that single fatality.

How would Samford cope with such a health crisis today? Shauna Yelton said Samford is working on a pandemic response as one part of comprehensive emergency response plans. "Over the last several months a sub-committee of the President's cabinet has been charged with studying other institutions and developing an implementation plan," she said.  "This process is now at a critical stage, as each of several core divisions will develop a set of proposals and questions for their area."

No pandemic is currently threatening the world. Samford students will give all for Step Sing, then succumb to viruses in February and recover in time for Spring Break. It's practically a rite of passage.

More Info

The 1918 Flu Pandemic

Samford Student Health Services

Step Sing 2008